Magic Bookshelf - Re-Connecting with Distant Family & Friends

GregHello, AnnTheGran Community!

It's only been about a month, and I miss all of you already, so I thought I'd come back and say hello. More importantly, I have unfinished business. I had some great requests from a previous Magic Bookshelf post about technology aspects to talk about, and I never got around to addressing those. So, here's what I'm planning to post about over the next little while:

Post #1 (today) - Connecting with Distant Family and Friends on Skype
Post #2 - What's So Great (And So Dangerous) About Facebook? Should you be on it?
Post #3 - Twitter and Microblogging - What is it and is it here to stay?
Post #4 - Using Social Networks to Share your Photos (and Scrapbooks) with Others

So, with that out of the way, let's get started with Skype. I know that a number of AnnTheGran users have already been using Skype for years, but my experience is that it's one of those things that people familiar with technology mistakenly assume is common knowledge, when that is in fact not the case. If you are a regular user, feel free to comment on this post and provide some encouragement to members of our community who might be thinking of giving it a try.

I have to apologize from the start if you work for a phone company, because this is not the type of post that encourages spending money on long distance calls. In fact, it's the type that shows you how to make all of your long-distanceSkype logo calls for free. I have written before about a service called Skype that I use regularly to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world. Because I have a webcam as well, it's not uncommon to have the whole family in the room during a Skype call with family overseas, and we'll talk for hours because it really is just like having them in the same room. Rather than always watching the clock because you're worried about the cost, it's more like a real interaction with loved ones that you don't ever want to end!

Skype is a program that you run on your Windows or Mac computer that allows you to talk with family, friends, or business associates anywhere in the world using your Internet connection. In other words, no long-distance charges. It uses a technology called "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VOIP for short), which basically means that it uses the same technology as instant messaging programs like MSN Messenger but it also carries voice. For the record, both MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger also have voice and video options, but I've always found that Skype gives a better connection. I have a high-speed connection, but I actually find that, even with a wireless connection, sound quality is just as good as it is through my home telephone and the phone company.

In addition to just making calls, Skype also lets you:

    * Send or receive files over the Internet to and from fellow skype users.
    * Search your address book contacts in your mail program and call them within Skype.
    * Search the database of all Skype users everywhere to find people you know who already use Skype.
    * Hold a conference call with a group of people, still for free
    * For a small fee, call to or receive a call from a regular telephone or a cell phone
Skype video screenshot
In order to start using Skype, all you need is a computer with Internet access, the Skype program, and a headset with a microphone. If you don't have a headset, you can get one for as little as $20 at your local electronics store. As I mentioned above, to really get that "in the same room" feeling, add a webcam as well. Many laptops come already equipped to use Skype without a headset - as long as the computer's built-in microphone is sensitive enough, no headset is required. Same with webcams. Many laptops (like my MacBook Pro) have built-in webcams. Either way, it is extremely easy to start using Skype. You can download the free program and test your computer system for compatibility at Just download it and follow the instructions.

If you're reading in a more rural area and you only have access to a dial-up connection, it still applies to you. Certainly, the quality of a dial-up connection will never be as good as broadband, but you should still be able to use Skype. If you want to try it with a dial-up connection, just make sure all other internet-related programs such as browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari), e-mail clients (Outlook, AOL), and chat applications (MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger) are closed, so that there is nothing interfering with your connection. You can even try a video chat through dial-up (I've heard of it being done), but the quality likely won't be that great.

So, if you haven't yet tried Skype, and you make a lot of long-distance calls, it's definitely something you should look into. Your far-flung family and friends will be glad you did.

Stay tuned for my next post: What's So Great (And So Scary) About Facebook? Should you be on it?






Comments (10) -

tourlady522 3/20/2009 10:12:36 PM

Hi Greg,

Nice to see you back on AnntheGran.

I have been using Skype for many years now and love it.

I just can not seem to get all my family on to using it though. I spend my winters in Florida and my family is in Canada. It seems I call them more than they call me but the cost to call from Skype to there phone is so minimal. I am still using the same amount I paid 3 years ago and I do use it a lot.

It is really easy to set up too. If anyone is thinking about trying it do not hesitate any longer free is always better than having to pay.

Hey, Greg,

How great to hear from you!  I'm looking forward to reading your blogs.  I always learn so much from you.  ;o)

I'm especially looking forward to reading about Facebook, since my kids are on it , and I'm thinking...

Keep all the good and welcome words coming from up there in our neighboring country.  Is it still cold?  My daffodils are in bloom.

Stitches to you,


I have a web cam with a microphone, do I need a seperate mike too?

We bought  the web cams before we had a high speed connection and I keep thinking that we should start using them. It was just too slow on dial up. I sure would like to use them with our grand children on the opposite coast!


tourlady: Thanks, Bonnie, it's nice to be back as a guest blogger. You're right that, once you've started using Skype for yourself, it can be a task to convince family and friends to use it. Feel free to forward them this post!

LaRueJ: Great to hear from you, too! We had a spell of nice weather but it has gone cold again. A lot of our daffodils were fooled (we have at least a hundred) by last week's weather and are well out of the ground, but it will be a couple weeks before they are blooming.

weistling: If your web cam has a microphone, you probably don't need a separate one. Skype lets you test your connections once you've installed the program, so, if I were you, I'd just give it a shot. I'm sure your grandkids would be thrilled to do a video chat with Grandma!

Hello Greg, add my happiness to hear from you to all the well wishers.  

Gee, my flowers have been in bloom most of the winter here in southern California.  We had a few cold days too, got right down in the 50s!!! Brrrr. . .

I want to try Skype too.  I just did not know any one with it.   I am going to work on that one soon.

I am so excited to be going to Orlando and present!  I wish you could join us, but we will be wearing orange socks in your honor!

Best wishes to you and yours, Pat

Hi Greg! I've been wondering where you were.....I miss you, as do the rest of us!

Yes, I'm a SKYPE user, too. Although I know only 1 person on skype, it keeps us connected daily. The only problem I found with using the internal mic on the computers is that the other person can hear an echo of themself talking which is rather distracting. I prefer that both parties use a headset with mic.

Welcome Back!

Rosie 3/21/2009 5:32:03 PM


Thank you for the info.  I live in KS my grandson who is in Waukegan, IL doing his Navy technology school is on facebook.  My son and his family are in Rhode Island.  I had a client in the office, that teaches over seas, who was selling her father's house.  She told me about something she used but I didn't quite catch what she said it was.  Thanks to you I think you have described exactly what she was telling me about.  I think I will have to give it a try.  I ordered a new laptop yesterday so might just wait until I get it in to see if my husband and I can talk to the members of the family that are so far away.

pat71896: Great to hear from you, Pat! I'm sure you'll knock 'em dead in Orlando. Make sure you get a picture of those orange socks...

rnh: Hi, Rosie! Thanks for your kind words. That's a good point about the microphone. There are so many different configurations between users that the best thing to do is to just try it and find what works best. Hopefully some readers of this post will be encouraged to give Skype a try based on all this great feedback. I'm glad that my post was able to "tweak your memory" about how to connect with your grandson and son. Good luck with your new laptop! Let us know how you get on.

gillrichards 3/23/2009 7:24:31 AM

Hi Greg

I am a Huge fan of both Ann-the-Gran and Skype.

Last year we travelled across Canada on a train and then down the west coast of the States, again by train, staying in hotels when we weren't on the train.  We bought £10's worth of Skype phone time before we left the UK.

During the time we were away, we Skyped one son on his mobile phone in between meeting sessions in a Japanese restaurant and phoned Son No. 2 on his mobile phone in the UK several times.  We used the laptop for local phone calls in the States from hotel rooms, and have had long sessions while Son No. 2 has backpacked across Ecuador and Peru as he Skyped us from Internet cafes.

We talk regularly on the phone to those who have Skype in this country and we still have £3.02 on the Skype account!

Thank you for all your work with Ann-the-Gran

From Gill the Grandma!

GillRichards: Gill, you are my kind of Grandma! What a great story - thanks so much for sharing it! The Internet is indeed an incredible way to stay connected. Most of my closest friends, and lots of my family, live in far-flung places and I simply couldn't live without tools like Skype.

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